A true story from Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul

The Little Dog That Nobody Wanted

If a dog's prayers were answered, bones would rain from the sky - Old Proverb

When Dad found Tippy-or rather, Tippy found Dad-it was a hot day in my southern Missouri hometown, in the summer of 1979.

For most of his life, Dad had never cared too much for pets, but the sight of that skinny, mange-infested pup seemed to open a door in his heart. Then that little lost pup slipped ever so meekly through that door.

That morning, Dad had been visiting with customers in the electronics shop where he had landed a part-time job after retirement. Suddenly a terrified, yelping stray puppy bolted through the door.

"I've lived many a year," Dad said that evening as he stepped into the house, "but I've never seen anything so pitiful as this." In his arms he cradled a cardboard box, and inside the box was a tiny wayfarer from an unimaginable hell.

Dad couldn't hold back the tears any longer. "I just couldn't put her back out on the streets. Look at her....we've got to do something to help her. She was just crying and crying and so scared," Dad said as Mom took the box from his arms. "Look at those open sores. Who could be so cruel as to let her get in this condition?"

Mom peered down into the box and was repulsed by what she saw. "Oh, she's too far gone," she told my dad, shaking her head in disbelief. "Let's just have the vet put her out of her misery."

No bigger than a teakettle, the wretched little terrier was being consumed by disease and starvation. Lifeless marble eyes bulged sadly atop a thin pointed nose; bony long legs curled under each other like limp spaghetti on a plate.

"I'm awfully sorry," the vet told Dad the next day. "There's really nothing I can do to help her now. She's too far gone."

But Dad insisted.

"Well, okay-if you want to try, here are some pills and some medicated cream to rub on her mange sores. But don't get your hopes up. I doubt if she makes it through the weekend."

Dad wrapped the sick, homeless pup back into the old bath towel and carried her to the car. That afternoon, he carried her gently out under the maple trees in the backyard and began the medication treatments.

"Every day your father totes that poor, miserable little creature out under the trees and massages that ointment into her skin," Mom said. "Those oozing sores cover her entire body. He can't even tell what color she's supposed to be-all her hair has been eaten away by the mange and infection."

"I won't keep her if she gets better," he promised Mom. "I'll find a good home for her if the medicine works." Mom was not too happy about helping a dirty, uncomely runt with no fur and spaghetti legs.

"I don't think we'll have to worry," Mom sighed. "But don't feel bad when the medicine doesn't work. At least you tried."

Nevertheless, every day, out in the shade of the big maple trees, Dad faithfully doctored the pup with no hair and bony legs, the little lost dog that nobody wanted.

For the first few days after the stray pup entered Dad's life, there was a slim hope for her survival. Disease and starvation had taken the little dog down a cruel path. It seemed only a miracle could help.

For seemingly endless days, Mom watched through the kitchen window as Dad continued to cart the little dog in the box out under the maple trees, where he doctored the wounds of neglect.

No one remembers exactly how long it took to see a glint of hope in my dad's countenance-and in the marble eyes of that pup. But slowly,  with timidity and reserve, the pup began to trust my dad and the first waggle of her skinny tail brought intense joy to my father.

Mom never wanted any part of that rescue effort, for she was not interested in bringing a dog into the house and their lives. But when she saw her husband's face the first time that pup showed an ounce of playfulness, she knew that Dad was struck with more than compassion.

Dad came from a rugged hill family who farmed the rocky ridges of the Ozark Mountains. He knew little joy as a child and worked hard at manual jobs as an adult. Reaching down to rescue that weak, mangy pup seemed to mend his wounded spirit, especially when he succeeded at beating the odds by nursing Tippy back to health.

"Just look at her!" Mom smiled. "You've really done it! She's growing her hair back and she's starting to play a little bit. No one thought she'd even live another day, but you stood by her and believed that she could make it."

As the pup continued healing, she began showing her true colors-except they weren't the prettiest of colors in the prettiest of patterns. A white patch here and there, a crowd of hazy black spots around the snout and chest, mottled white blotches against a black torso. And because of the white tip on her tail, she was given a common name for a common dog: Tippy.

"Now honey, I've tried to find her a good home but nobody needs a little dog right now," Dad lamented. "I've asked around everywhere. I promise, I've tried real hard." Mom knew he was trying about as hard as a man choosing between a lawn mower and a hammock on a hot summer afternoon.

"Well, I don't know who would want her," Mom said. "Even with her hair grown in and all those sores gone, she's still kind of ugly and gangly."

A few weeks later, after unsuccessfully trying to trade her off on someone, Dad said, "Now I know she's not a cute little dog, but I guess she'll have to do. Nobody else wants her."

There. He'd said it. And Mom knew the little lost dog that nobody wanted had curled up to stay.

She would have to sleep out in the laundry room, not in the house, Mom scolded. Dad and Tippy complied with the rules, and their singular friendship sprouted and blossomed in comforting ways-for they came to need each other often during Dad's worst of times.

"That pup saw your dad through all his pain and cancer for the next three years," Mom recalled. "Sometimes I think God sent that little dog to be with your dad in the end."

After Dad died, Mom went out to the laundry room one day and gazed down at the quiet little creature curled up obediently in her cardboard box bed.

"Hmmmmm....okay, Tippy," she said softly. "Maybe it won't hurt having you come inside the house just once in awhile. It's awfully lonesome in there." At that moment, Mom felt connected to the homely little dog, as if Dad's hands were still reaching down to help them both in time of need.

In the following months, Tippy and Mom became soul mates of sorts. The cardboard-box bed was brought in from the laundry room to Mom's bedroom, where it stayed for the next fourteen years.

"As long as I had that little dog," Mom said, "it was like a part of your dad was still here. She brought life back into the house."

Eventually, the rigors of time and age took their toll on Mom's little friend; blindness and painful joints set in. With overwhelming sadness and regret, Mom asked my brother to help take Tippy for her final trip to the vet.

"I reached down to cradle her head in my hands," Mom said, "and she leaned her face against mine as if to say thanks for all we had done for her."

Tippy lived seventeen years after that fateful journey of terror through traffic, rundown warehouses, pain and suffering to find my dad. And looking back over the years, it seems to me now that the true miracle was not in the healing forces of Dad's loving hands and kindness toward the little lost dog that nobody wanted-but in the difference they made in each other's lives.   

Jan K. Stewart Bass

There is nothing so pure and strong as the love of a dog for his Master.

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